Fans Are Fanning Ryan Blaney’s Racing Fires

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 24 2018

Ryan Blaney appreciates his fans and what they bring to the sport. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Ryan Blaney only has one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on his racing resume and he has yet to claim a championship, but the soft-spoken 24-year-old driver is already walking in Richard Petty’s footsteps when it comes to dealing with the fans.

Last year at Texas Motor Speedway he sat in the stands with fans and ate pizza. And at Dover, after winning the Xfinity Series race, he melted the hearts of those in an often-jaded sport with a random act of kindness.

After receiving the checkered flag from the NASCAR official, Blaney motioned to a child wearing a Kyle Larson shirt to come over to the fence. Blaney then handed the checkered flag to the boy, who later joined Blaney in victory lane.

“I feel like those little things you can do to get face-to-face with fans and make a memory. That is the biggest thing to me, making a memory for them that lasts a lifetime,” Blaney said.

It’s making those special memories for the fans that hook them on the sport and create a passion in them for a particular driver. It was something that seven-time NASCAR champion Petty realized early in his career. When NASCAR’s premier series was comprised primarily of short tracks, Petty never left a speedway until everyone who wanted his autograph possessed it. It was his kindness to a young Brad Daugherty that resulted in the former NBA star always having the No. 43 on his jersey. And it was that thoughtfulness that led to Petty having international membership in his fan club.

Like Petty, Blaney grew up around a race track. It’s one reason the third-generation driver understands the sport so well and appreciates its heritage. He enjoyed wearing a uniform for the Wood Brothers that resembled the one David Pearson sported in the 1970s when he and the then Stuart, Va.-based team were practically unstoppable on the superspeedways. He wanted to see what it felt like to drive at historic Darlington without gloves, something that was common in NASCAR’s first three decades. His step into history during a 2016 practice session on throwback weekend resulted in a $1,000 fine from NASCAR. But at least he knew.

However, it’s the fact that Blaney would rather make other people happy than himself that makes him special; a unique individual in an extremely selfish sport.

“If I have to sacrifice time, it is just time,” Blaney says. “I would rather do something meaningful to the sport than to go sit on my couch. I don’t feel like I am doing anything then and feel I could be more useful somewhere else. Very rarely do I say no to things just to sit on my couch. I can do that at night and I can do that when I retire.”

Blaney likes spontaneity when it comes to dealing with the fans. It’s something he wants to do more often – finish his day’s work at the track and then go hang out with fans, eating with them and talking about the sport. He also enjoys driving a golf cart around in the infield and talking with fans.

Blaney’s attitude is extremely refreshing and one the sport desperately needs! He can’t pinpoint when he adopted his philosophy, but he noted his dad was always very open to the fans and he appreciated that about him.

“I think he taught me growing up that … NASCAR doesn’t exist without the fans,” Blaney said. “Whenever we can show them a good time or an experience unlike they expected is something that really sticks with people for life. No sport would be around without fans. You are never maxed out on your potential to make somebody’s day.”

Blaney hopes he experiences more days like the one in Dover when he handed his checkered flag to the child. And for the sake of this sport, I hope he does, too.  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 24 2018
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Bob Leonard says:

    Great article. Bristol August ’16 Friday. @blaney came over to the fans at the golf cart parking fence. He walked down the fence signing and interacting. Harvick, Ky Busch, and others took the bridge and avoided the fans. @blaney gets it!